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Winding roads, wine and an all-women ride: Gal by Bike says Yes, Please

Winding roads, wine and an all-women ride: Gal by Bike says Yes, Please

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Maybe it was the wine?
(Photos: K.Laudermilk)

This post is by columnist Kate Laudermilk.

In April, Cycle Oregon’s Chris Knott e-mailed me asking if I would like to cover the first ever women’s only Cycle Oregon ride. At the time, he informed me that they had exceeded their original goal of 250 sign-ups and were at 620.

After visiting the ride’s website, I could tell why so many women were enticed. Wine tasting? All local catered lunch and rest stop snacks? Massage therapy and acupuncture? Yoga? Live music? Widmer beer? AND bike riding!? SOLD!

There were three routes to choose from. 17, 38, and 60 miles — all with rest stops that would exceed the expectations of the Queen of England and impeccable signage throughout each route. If you think for one second that any of these routes were lacking big hills, you’re mistaken. You see, ladies prefer their luxury with a side of excruciating physical feats.

You might be asking yourself, Why is it important to have a ride specifically for women? That was a question I had been asking myself the entire week leading up to the ride. It wasn’t up to me to answer that. Instead, I left that up to the numerous women that I met and spent time with on Saturday afternoon.

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When I asked Val Larson what her relationship to bikes was she clasped her hands over her heart, closed her eyes, and said, with a breathless sigh, “I LOVE my bike.” This was Val’s first time participating in Cycle Oregon. When asked what made her want to sign up for the Joyride, she said that an all women’s ride sounded too fun to pass up. A lifetime bike commuter, she’s happily retired now and can ride her bike “just for the fun of it.”

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Maggie Hamilton is the kind of person you notice first in a room. Or, in my case, a field. She has an effervescent personality and a permanent smile across her face — not to mention a hot-pink wig that attaches to her helmet and actual sparkles near her eyes. I couldn’t NOT talk to Maggie.

In 1973, she started commuting by bike while working in Washington DC. “Nobody was doin’ that back then! Especially not women!” Maggie proudly stated. After years of dancing and riding her bike, two knee surgeries sadly left Maggie unable to participate fully in her passions. 2005 was the last time she regularly rode a bike.

At 62 years old, she’s been volunteering for Cycle Oregon for twelve years — claiming that, if they started an all women’s ride, she would participate as more than a volunteer. A deep giggle came pouring out as she told me that she thought the first Joyride would be in 2017, not THIS year. “I might fall over, but I’m gonna do it!” she said about the 17 mile ride ahead of her. “This is the first time I’ll be riding for pleasure since I was a kid.”

I have no doubt that Maggie conquered those 17 miles with inspirational vigor.

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Literal harp music was playing over the speakers when I ran into Kari Lyons-Eubanks (left) and Shannon Sneed (right). I was ready to pack up my little reporter notebook and begin my 38 mile ride when I heard, “my vagina feels SO supported here.”

I spun around and asked Shannon if I could put that on the record because it made me laugh so hard. Maybe it was the harp music, or the yoga that was going on at that moment, but things were starting to feel a little TOO civilized. We just had to laugh. “Would a men’s only ride feel differently from this?” we all wondered aloud.







Kari and Shannon are the kind of women that I seek out as friends. They’re strong, hilarious, and powerful women. “In all seriousness, this is a really historic week for women!” Shannon said. We all agreed that Hillary Clinton, who had just clinched the Democratic Party nomination, would probably love this ride.

“I thought, wine and no kids?! I’m there!”
— Kari Lyons-Eubanks

Both Kari and Shannon are moms. “I thought, wine and no kids?! I’m there!” Kari said about her motivation for signing up. However, it seemed like riding her bike meant a great deal more to her than merely getting an afternoon to herself.

After childbirth, Kari shared with me that she suffered some more than uncomfortable physical complications that left her feeling unable to do the kind of riding she had done before kids. She had trained and raced regularly, worked at Bike Gallery for years — riding her bike was a part of who she was. She described to me how the bike she rode before having a baby just didn’t suit her anymore. She wasn’t comfortable on it.

Skip to Kari’s new bike and new relationship to riding. She described a bike ride she recently took on her new steed. The weather was awful, the hills were hard, but, when she got to the top she described how she literally screamed out in triumph. “It was good to be back,” she said with a reminiscent smile across her face. “Riding my bike is like being in a container of my own space,” she described. Shannon jumped in describing riding her bike as a way to “serve herself.” I’m always in awe of how powerful a bike can be.

It was overwhelming how many women shared with me that they would participate in more group rides if they were all more like the Joyride. Laurie Roland, bike riding badass and bride to be, stated “I hope that my friends and I start doing rides like this more often!” I overheard another woman in Laurie’s group say “I’m going to do this again next year! This has been a hoot!”

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The whole event had such a positive vibe. Everyone seemed to be having the time of their lives. There was no shortage of laughter and chatting. Not a competitive edge in sight.

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Ride or walk — it doesn’t matter! Just get up that hill!

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Every time I pulled over to take photos I was met with no fewer than five individuals asking me if I needed anything — was I ok? I felt very supported, just like Shannon said.

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Rest stop number two. A mechanic from Bike Gallery adjusted my gears as I stuffed my face with cheese and hazelnuts.

Would I recommend Joyride to other women? Absolutely! Heck, we should do this more often!

So why is it important to have a all women’s ride? I’m still not sure. All I know is that, though I ventured into this ride completely alone, I felt far from it. As Maggie so perfectly put it, “we’re all just ordinary people that come in all shapes and sizes. We can all feel comfortable here.” Amen, sister friend.

Gal by Bike is an occasional column about life and bicycles by Portlander Kate Laudermilk.

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Reform school: PSU will host a free ‘Summer Transportation Institute’ for girls

Reform school: PSU will host a free ‘Summer Transportation Institute’ for girls

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It’ll be an introduction to transportation careers.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

If you’re a female high schooler with a yen for understanding how cities work and how to help them evolve, Portland State Unviersity has a deal for you.

PSU’s Transportation Research and Education Center is offering its first-ever Summer Transportation Institute, a two-week course designed to introduce young women (rising into grades 9-12) to the possibilities of a career in shaping streets. It’ll be divided between (a) guest lectures from prominent women in Portland’s transportation world and (b) “field tours of Portland’s transportation infrastructure and public spaces.”

Here’s how the course description puts it:

The transportation work force needs all types of personalities: analytical thinkers, social movers, and creative dreamers. …

The majority of the program will be taught by women working in transportation in the academic, public and private sectors. The objective is not only to expose high school girls to academic and career opportunities in transportation but also to provide them with a narrative of the road to success from each of the professional women.

Portland provides a living laboratory for the students to experience and study multiple modes of transportation in the field. Portland is unique in the United States for its breadth of high quality transportation facilities such as the light rail, streetcar and bicycle and pedestrian network.








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The course runs from Monday, July 11 to Friday, July 21. If you’d like to see whether it might be a good fit for you, PSU has prepared a transportation quiz to help test your “transportation aptitude.” (Note: after a couple trial runs, I strongly suspect that it is not actually possible to fail this quiz.)

If that’s not enough, the program is literally administered by a rock star.

Sarah Dougher (also a singer and rock musician whose day job happens to be at PSU) said in an interview Wednesday that the school hopes to make this the first of an annual tradition.

“There are these camps all over the country,” she said. “Depending on where it takes place, it looks very different in different communities. Ours is going to have a lot on biking and walking, though not exclusively that. Also, we’re interested in thinking about social justice in relation to transportation.”

Though the official deadline for the course is May 27, Dougher said they’re being processed on a rolling basis. So it may be OK to keep applying past the deadline, but the longer you wait the more competition you’ll be facing.

“As girls become interested and apply, then we’ll get back to them once their application is complete,” Dougher said.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

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BTA’s new Women Bike program aims to link up Portlanders who ride

BTA’s new Women Bike program aims to link up Portlanders who ride

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The program will be
modeled on ones in DC and Philadelphia.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

With companies and groups for female bike users popping up across the Portland area, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance has launched a new program aiming to stitch together their social scenes.

From the women’s cyclocross course at Gladys Bikes to the women and trans wrench night at the Bike Farm to the mom-focused Andando en Bicicletas en Cully club to the Ride Like a Girl training program, lots of Portland-area bike lovers have been throwing themselves into making it easier and more fun for women to ride.

Thanks to a new grant from Metro, the BTA now has a half-time staffer to support those efforts and build other such networks of women who bike. The advocacy group’s first Women Bike commute clinic is tomorrow (8/20).

In addition to the free monthly workshops and clinics, BTA Program Manager Nicole Davenport is organizing a Facebook group for local women who bike; a monthly ride; and coffee meetups every Wednesday morning at rotating locations.

“The initiative came out of looking at Metro’s research about how many people are riding bikes and the gender makeup of it,” Davenport said Tuesday. In the Portland metro area and around the country, only about one in four bike commuters are women; within Portland proper, it’s only about one in three. Men are also overrepresented in lots of bike events, from weekend century rides to the BTA’s Bike Commute Challenge.

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Davenport said the Women Bike program is modeled on successful programs developed by the Washington Area Bicyclist Association and Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. She said the WABA group, founded in 2013, had interacted with thousands of women in the DC area.

“I posted a question about bike short rash from wearing chammois, and how do you fix that. That’s a question I think I would never ask a male counterpart.”
— Nicole Davenport, BTA Program Manager

The BTA says the “heart” of its program, like its peers in DC and Philadelphia, is a closed Facebook group that serves as the hub for online conversations.

“There are certain things that have already come up on the Facebook group where I have felt like, wow, I wouldn’t feel comfortable bringing up in a mixed-gender group,” Davenport said. “I posted a question about bike short rash from wearing chammois, and how do you fix that. That’s a question I think I would never ask a male counterpart.”

Davenport, who previously worked as the BTA’s former membership manager, is also spending the other half of her time as the BTA’s coordinator for the Bicycle Commute Challenge. That job is also partially funded from the same two-year Regional Travel Options grant from Metro.

In both the BCC and Women Bike, Davenport hopes the BTA will be able to reach people of various cultures as well as multiple genders.

“Certainly one of the goals that we have is that we want to be reaching a diverse group of women,” she said. “We want to make sure that the program isn’t just preaching to the choir and it also isn’t only for white middle-class women. … Whatever race, socioeconomic status, where they live in the region and hopefully be able to use those people through our bicycle advocacy as well.”


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Why Sunday Parkways organizers are reaching out to female volunteers

Why Sunday Parkways organizers are reaching out to female volunteers

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A volunteer “Superhero” in action.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Sunday Parkways, the series of summertime open-streets festivals that starts next month, runs in large part thanks to volunteers. Today we noticed an interesting angle in a recruitment pitch for those volunteers.

The recruiter, Phil Barber of Axiom Events, called his appeal “a long-overdue first step toward trying to connect with wider circles of women interested in supporting Sunday Parkways.”

Here’s what Barber wrote in an email today to the Shift bike-fun email listserv, with emphasis added:

I need your help filling our highest volunteer leadership role in the organization with women from Portland’s (often male-dominated) cycling community by providing me with suggestions, feedback, and possibly even volunteering yourself.

This role, which we call Superhero Coordinator, is the secret to our success as an event. It entails spending the day at Sunday Parkways teaching, organizing, distributing, supporting, and generally building rapport with volunteers, managing route logistics, and riding 15-20 miles with a partially loaded trailer. The volunteers who perform this role are, every one of them, some of the most amazing people you’d ever hope to meet– and many amazing women have performed this role over the years (some of you among them).

We fill this position from our pool of Mobile Superheroes. These volunteers ride the route as a team with the Superhero Coordinators solving problems as they arise over the course of a Sunday Parkways event. In order to fill the roster of next year’s Superhero Coordinators with women, we need excited and engaged women to serve as Mobile Superheroes this year.

We rely on financial support from readers like you.

Our effort to recruit female leaders for Sunday Parkways is about much more than simply gender-balancing our volunteer base. It’s about the core mission of Sunday Parkways to build community and foster connections among the citizens of Portland, half of whom are women. It’s about maintaining the diversity of perspectives that help make any community stronger, more intelligent, more versatile and capable. It’s about fostering female leadership in a male dominated bike culture and the wider culture in which we live. And, it’s about creating mutually beneficial professional relationships with female leaders– for those who like event work, growth opportunities exist within our company (Axiom) and the wider event community in the region.

Here’s a link to the Superhero Coordinator volunteer position and the Mobile Superhero volunteer position. We ask that those interested volunteer for a few events as a Mobile — from there, it’s easy to identify individuals who have fallen in love with the event and want more ownership.

This note is a long-overdue first step toward trying to connect with wider circles of women interested in supporting Sunday Parkways. If you or anyone you know are looking for a fun, challenging, bike-oriented volunteer leadership experience, please reach out to them, encourage them to volunteer, or even simply forward this email to them. If you know any female cycling teams (5 or more), let them know that an opportunity for fundraising on behalf of their team exists at our events and that I would love to get them connected. In addition to my personal email address, I can be reached here: SundayParkways@AxiomEventProductions.com and here: (503) 333-8399.

Finally, please give me your thoughts on different ways I can approach women in our cycling community! Your input immeasurably helps to strengthen the Sunday Parkways program, and our community in general. Thank you!

It’s nice to see Barber, a city contractor, being proactive about getting women involved in a bike event. His efforts to anticipate the possible benefits to the volunteers — leadership development, fundraising for a cycling team, and of course social good — also seem well-chosen.

Being a Sunday Parkways superhero is a great way to see Portland at its best. Whatever your gender, consider signing up for a slot or two this summer and/or finding friends who might enjoy it too.

Sunday Parkways NW-23

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New ad for women’s jeans raises the bar for marketing bike products

New ad for women’s jeans raises the bar for marketing bike products

We shared the news in this week’s Monday Roundup that Levi’s has just launched some new fits, including a line for women, of their Commuter brand jeans. The jeans are designed for bike transportation with high-rise waists, skinny legs and slightly reflective seams.

And befitting a clothing line that’s built for everyday riding, the video they launched today bursts through a dozen dull stereotypes about both biking and about marketing women’s bike products.

Since our friend Jessica Roberts of Alta Planning + Design shared the video on Twitter, we’ve seen some warm reviews from Portlanders we respect:

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And a couple interesting thoughts from a prominent Los Angeles bike shop:

“At first I was a little turned off by how fast & young it skewed – didn’t feel like it was for me,” adds Roberts, 39. “But then I realized that’s what fashion does. From that perspective, it’s probably quite effective in setting up urban biking as a cultural aspiration/norm.”

To me (who is, admittedly, a white dude who already wears jeans on almost every bike trip) there’s a lot to like here. From my perspective, the ad’s celebration of little moments is stylish but not formal, practical but not pedantic, attractive but not sexual, familiar but not boring.

There are lots of different kinds of bikes. One of them is on a freaking bus rack.

There’s even rain.

What do you think?

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Comment of the Week: The challenge of speaking up as a woman who bikes

Comment of the Week: The challenge of speaking up as a woman who bikes

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Biking community leader Lisa Marie White, right,
leading an advocacy discussion at a BikePortland
Wonk Night in October.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Of all the conversations we’ve had on the site this week — there have been 1,100 comments on 27 posts — the biggest was about the line between journalism and community.

Many people who we respect disagreed with Jonathan’s decision to delete archived references in past stories to a man who, he’d decided, seemed to be using his perceived status to hurt other people.

The One of the most upvoted comments in the thread came from another reader and fellow community member who we respect a lot: Lisa Marie White, a prominent local biking advocate (most recently at Bike Walk Vote) and active community member. Here’s her take on Hart Noecker and, more importantly, on what Portland’s biking communities should learn from this conversation:

First: to those taking issue with Jonathan deleting information from the site, I believe he did the right thing. As someone who knows the situation and the accused (though we are no longer friends), not allowing him to promote himself via this site is important. Additionally, those posts have a tendency to falsely imply he was a leader (which he likely encouraged), though from what I know he was not.

Second: I’d like to echo Esther in thanking you for addressing this publicly. It is not simply an “incident” – at its root is a generally discounted female and minority voice in our bike community. To those who repeatedly tell me “but we’re the most progressive city and most progressive bike culture”, I’d agree… and what does that say about the state of female and minority voices in bicycling? If we have difficulty being heard here, where CAN we be?

The realities of being ignored and discounted (and having to have male board members forward e-mails to me, since despite being a chair, people assumed they must really be running our group) has made me, on more than one occasion, want out of the active transportation advocacy world.

Dismissing varied voices sets the stage for accusations like Byrd’s going ignored and doubted and shut down until the tally of accusers is high enough to force acknowledgment. It also allows Hart and others to dominate conversations at the expense of others. Aggressive speech from him was rarely a problem – aggressive responses from women have been met with discomfort and shunning.

I wasn’t going to comment, but silence and silencing has been our biggest problem and it has allowed egregious behavior to go unchecked.

Speaking up, however, is equally unappealing as a woman. Throughout this ordeal, when other women have spoken up, I’ve heard the real-time responses of “she’s too sensitive” or “she’s a bit intense/needs to calm down” or “why is she taking this personally”. Outside of this particular issue, I’ve also seen women promote great ideas and seen them swiftly discounted for their lack of “experience” or “knowledge”… only to see a guy say the same thing and have his ideas lauded. We’ll hold prominent women up as tokens of our inclusiveness, yet fail to integrate them into conversation and decision making in meaningful ways.

This is a systemic problem of which we have only scratched the surface, and I believe it is one of the reasons bicycling has stagnated in this city – many still feel no place exists for them in this world. I am incredibly thankful to everyone who has spoken up and to the men in the community who have shown themselves to be caring, compassionate, and open to examining their own faults. You give me a whole lot of hope 🙂

“Once you know better, you do better.”

I truly hope we do.

We don’t choose White’s comment because she happened to agree with our course of action on this, but because in this comment she puts her brain, her experience and her heart on the line to explain how things look from her perspective and point the direction we should go from here. If you ask us, that’ll always be the formula for great bike advocacy. Thanks for being one of the many who’ve spoken up, Lisa Marie.

Yes, we pay for good comments. As always we’ll be mailing a $5 bill to Lisa Marie in thanks for this great one.

The post Comment of the Week: The challenge of speaking up as a woman who bikes appeared first on BikePortland.org.

New shop on Williams Ave, ‘Gladys Bikes’, caters to women

New shop on Williams Ave, ‘Gladys Bikes’, caters to women

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Leah Benson, owner of Gladys Bikes.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Portland has a new bike shop. But before you react with, “Really? Another one!?”, keep in mind that unlike any other shop in Portland, Gladys Bikes (Facebook) at 3808 N Williams caters specifically to women.

The shop is the work of 30-year old north Portland resident Leah Benson. I stopped by yesterday to check out the space and learn more about her.

A native of Wisconsin, Benson moved to Portland five years ago. She previously worked for Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc., a non-profit that provides education and advocacy for women going into non-traditional employment (mostly building and construction trades). Benson has also been an active volunteer with the Community Cycling Center.

While she’s ridden her bike her entire life (“I grew up in the middle of nowhere, so I had to ride my bike if I wanted to do anything,” she said) and started biking to work in her early 20s, it wasn’t until she moved to Portland that biking became a larger part of her life. “This is such an easy city to become immersed in bicycles,” she said, “it became not just something I did to get from point A to point B, but so much an integral part of my life.”

“Sometimes it’s nice to be able to walk in and say, ‘Oh, there actually is something that relates to me and fits my body already’.”
— Leah Benson

As she got more into cycling, she felt like something was missing during trips to her local bike shop. “It just never felt like there was a place for me,” is how she put it. Then one night, while talking with some friends (“To be honest, were griping a bit”) she recalled that, “I was like, ‘Man, I just wish there was a women’s specific bike shop!’ and I thought, you know what, I like new challenges and this is something that’s important to me. I’m going to give it a try.”

One-and-a-half years later she opened Gladys Bikes.

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The shop is in the HUB Building on N. Williams Avenue, which is also where female bike entrepreneurs Natalie Ramsland of Sweetpea Bicycles and Jude Gerace of Sugar Wheel Works are located.

“It’s really hard to strike a balance between being honest about the female experience and not just making blanket statements and stereotypes about what it means to be a woman who rides a bike.”
— Leah Benson

The space is small, and for now at least, it’s sparsely populated with products. Benson says she’s on a month-to-month lease and she wants to start small, grow into the space over time, and then eventually move into a larger location. That strategy makes sense, since a bike shop that caters to women is a new concept in Portland.

“In a lot of ways it’s an experiment,” Benson shared, “Looking to figure out a way to cater to a fairly wide swath of women and do it in a way that’s successful. It’s really hard to strike a balance between being honest about the female experience and not just making blanket statements and stereotypes about what it means to be a woman who rides a bike — or just putting a big pink flower out and saying, ‘You’ll all identify with this, so come on in!'”

Benson says she offers women a “semi-custom experience” and that one of the main services she provides is fitting women to their bikes and then offering the accessories and components that “make sense for them.” In a loft above the service area, bike builder Natalie Ramsland will offer custom bike fits. “The idea being that it shouldn’t be something that you have to have a lot of money for or feel like you’re a racer to have a bike that fits you — whether you’re riding a 20-year-old bike or something brand new.”

Fit isn’t something that’s necessarily more important for women, Benson explained, but, “It’s gotten wrong more often for women.”

In addition to helping women get comfortable, Benson’s selection of products also caters to her mission. The first thing I noticed in the shop was the expansive selection of saddles. Gladys Bike customers will find a dozen to choose from. While many shops will carry just a few saddles that work well for women, Benson believes that it’s important to have an expansive selection.

“All bike shops are always very willing to special order things that relate to women,” says Benson, “But sometimes it’s nice to be able to walk in and say, ‘Oh, there actually is something that relates to me and fits my body already’.”

Along with a great saddle selection, Benson also carries as assortment of fashionable Cleverhood rain ponchos and an assortment of essentials including: lights from Portland Design Works; Nutcase helmets; cycling caps from Double Darn; panniers, backpacks, and bags from North St. and Po Campo; and all the other Portland riding essentials. The shop doesn’t carry a bike brand yet, but Benson says she might offer Papillionaire, a line of vintage Dutch style city bikes from Australia.

And there’s a mirror on the wall with a hand-written sign that says, “You look perfect.”

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That’s nice to hear. Thank you!

A bike shop that caters explicitly to women is new to Portland, but Benson is part of a growing national “Women Bike” movement. Since it became an official focus on the League of American Bicyclists at the 2012 National Bike Summit, the effort to get more women interested in cycling has gained considerable momentum. Women Bike is now a full-fledged program and campaign for the League and female business owners and advocacy leaders are emerging all over the U.S. bike advocacy sphere.

“My gut says that we’ll see more and more successful shops like this as the women bike movement grows.”
— Elly Blue, publisher and author

Like Pedal Chic in Greenville, South Carolina and The Unlikely Cyclist in Costa Mesa, California, Gladys Bikes joins a growing list of bike shops for women. According to author, publisher, columnist and feminist commentator Elly Blue, “All three are basically regular bike shops that have the baseline assumption that the standard customer is female; as opposed to most local bike shops that tacitly assume a male audience.”

Blue sees nothing short of a cultural trend in the making. “My gut says that we’ll see more and more successful shops like this as the women bike movement grows… and it’s really refreshing to see that Portland’s ahead of the curve on this.”

Benson says she’s not surprised to see the women bike movement has caught fire. For her part, Benson sees her role as simply bringing people together. “This women bike thing is something a lot of women have been talking about for so long. Shops try their hardest, but sometimes just aren’t comfortable places to go into… the atmosphere just doesn’t feel inclusive.”

As for whether or not men will feel comfortable at Gladys Bikes, Benson laughs, saying that’s a question she hears a lot. “The answer is, it’s just as comfortable of a place for men. In fact, half the people that have walked in so far have been men. My goal is to welcome everyone, but explicitly make sure this is going to be a comfortable place for women that hopefully has the things that they need.”

— Gladys Bikes is located at 3808 N. Williams Ave, Suite 132 (behind Cha! Cha! Cha!). You can meet Leah and learn more about the shop at an event she’s hosting on October 17th. The name of the event is, “Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Your Bike (But Were Afraid To Ask)” will kick off a monthly discussion group where attendees will write down their burning bike-related questions on anonymous notecards and they’ll be answered by experts. Visit the Facebook event page for more info.

Six lessons for Portland from the League’s new ‘Women Bike’ report

Six lessons for Portland from the League’s new ‘Women Bike’ report

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Common, but not quite common enough.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Even in Portland, people who really ought to know better (links to FB) still claim now and then that biking is a thing for young dudes.

Still, in a town where only 31 percent of people on bikes tend to be female (it’s about 25 percent nationally) we’ve got a long way to go until, as in Germany or the Netherlands, our biking population is evenly split by gender. Portland’s failure to change this ratio for 10 years can be discouraging to people who think everyone deserves to feel welcome on a bike.

That’s why there’s a lot to celebrate in a new report by the League of American Bicyclists that rounds up dozens of statistics about women and bikes. Culled from industry reports, political polls and academic studies, a few of the report’s figures are pretty surprising…

1) All U.S. growth in occasional bike riding seems to be happening among women.

Sunday Parkways

Here’s the only fact in this study that really knocked my socks off: between 2003 and 2012, though the national bike commuting rate has been rising rapidly among both men and women, the number of American men and boys who ride at least occasionally (at least six times per year) has completely flatlined. A National Sporting Goods Association web survey of 38,000 households found that the number of males who ride is stuck at 20.2 million, despite national population growth of 8 percent over the same period.

Meanwhile, the number of women and girls who say they ride a bike at least six times a year is up 20 percent, to 19.1 million.

League spokeswoman Carolyn Szczepanski described this as “one of the most surprising things I found,” and I agree. For Portland, this should be a reminder that a bike network doesn’t just serve people who spend a lot of time with it; it needs to be intuitive to those who use it now and then.

2) There are business openings for bike shops that serve women better.

Sharifa Roach of Black Bird Bicycle Repair

Sharifa Roach of Black Bird Bicycle Repair.

According to the Gluskin Townley Group’s 2012 American Bicyclist Survey, only 37 percent of women bought their current bike from a shop, compared to 48 percent of men.

Probably related: 89 percent of bike shop owners are men, according to a 2013 report for the National Bicycle Dealers Association. (Of bike shops, 33 percent are owned by a husband-wife team.) Though we have some great shops with women in charge (Coventry, Clever and Splendid Cycles come to mind), a lot of shops in Portland, whoever the owner, still feel like boys’ clubs when you walk in. You can call that a problem, but I call it an opportunity.

3) If we can safely separate bike and auto traffic, female biking is likely to rise.

Broadway's parking-separated cycle track

Broadway’s parking-separated cycle track.

Yesterday’s news that the federal government seems to be preparing to endorse cycle tracks is likely to boost the number of women in the saddle. While 13 percent of men say they’re “confident riding on all roads with traffic,” only 6 percent of women say the same. The national shift toward building physically separated cycle tracks, which has yet to take off in Portland, is in part a response to this gender gap, which was captured in a September 2012 poll by Princeton Survey Research Associates.

Portland’s network of off-street paths also has some glaring omissions, like the obvious lack of routes alongside the east side of the Willamette or Interstate 84.

If there’s an obvious reason why Portland’s bike gender gap has persisted for so long, this is it.

4) Public bikesharing tends to be a hit with women.

bikeshare demo

A study last year by Susan Shaheen of public bikesharing systems in North America found that 43 percent of all bikeshare members are female, far above the national norm for bike trips. If Alta Bicycle Share ever recruits the sponsors that’ll bring such a system to Portland, expect a similar trend here.

5) When biking gets beyond commuting, women win.

Even more than men, women use bikes for more than just the commute trip.

Like it or not, women in two-adult households tend to make twice as many trips as men to drop off or pick up children, according to a 2005 study, and women who bike are twice as likely as men who bike to use it for shopping and errands, a different study found. If we think these trends will continue, we should be making bikes and bikeways that people will use to carry both children and purchased goods.

This also means that if we increase the number of women on bikes, we’ll be strengthening the argument that good bike parking and access can be better for retailers than a few auto parking spaces.

6) Professional bike advocacy is doing OK at hiring women, less so at making them leaders.

Catherine Ciarlo on a bike

Former BTA director and mayoral aide Catherine Ciarlo.

I was pleased to learn that 45 percent of paid bike advocacy staff are female, but depressed to see that of 89 board members at the six biggest national bike advocacy groups, only 20 are women. Here in Portland, women are slightly less rare on the boards of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance and Community Cycling Center: they’re currently 9 in 28; both groups have had female executive directors in the past, though for the BTA it’s been a while.

Another notable stat from the report: women represent 22 percent of the Congressional Bike Caucus. That seems like a big imbalance … until you realize that women only represent 18 percent of Congress. Biking isn’t the only area where this country has a long way to go.

Want to talk more about these issues with like-minded advocates? Join a nationwide Twitter chat at 5 p.m. tomorrow (Friday, 8/9) by following and using the hashtag #womenbike.

PBOT launches women’s cycling survey

PBOT launches women’s cycling survey

Sexy Schwinns and Trektosterone Rides-13

Survey asks what women want.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) has released a women’s cycling survey. The survey comes from PBOT’s Active Transportation Division and it aims to learn more about women’s current bike use and interest in cycling in general.

PBOT’s Women on Bikes program has been leading rides and creating resources for women since 2005. Currently, just 31 percent of Portland’s bike riders are women. According to the most recent City data, that number has not changed since 2003. Women are often singled out for promotion of cycling because it’s believed that they are an “indicator species” of a bike-friendly city.

A 2009 article in Scientific American put it this way:

Women are considered an “indicator species” for bike-friendly cities for several reasons. First, studies across disciplines as disparate as criminology and child ­rearing have shown that women are more averse to risk than men. In the cycling arena, that risk aversion translates into increased demand for safe bike infrastructure as a prerequisite for riding. Women also do most of the child care and household shopping, which means these bike routes need to be organized around practical urban destinations to make a difference.

Janis McDonald started the City’s Women on Bikes program back in 2005 and still leads the effort today. “Women on Wheels and Women on Bikes are local women’s cycling groups,” McDonald wrote in an email promoting the survey, “We want to support women of all riding abilities with rides, resources, and social networking. To give you what you truly want and need, we need to hear what you think.”

The survey asks questions on a variety of topics including: riding behavior, reasons for riding, whether or not women would be interested in becoming a member of a Women on Wheels club; and so on. The survey is open until June 20th. Fill it out online and share it with your friends.

Portland women team up for ‘Let’s Race Bikes!’ initiative

Portland women team up for ‘Let’s Race Bikes!’ initiative

Racing at PIR

A member of Sorella Forte racing at PIR.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

A new initiative launched in Portland aims to get more women racing bikes on the road. Let’s Race Bikes! is a coalition led by local teams that want to see larger women’s fields at races throughout Oregon.

“Basically, a group of women have joined together because we saw a need to “market” Road racing in Oregon,” says Let’s Race Bikes! Board Member Karey Miles. “Over the past few years we have seen drops and inconsistencies in numbers of women racing their bikes, especially on the road.”

The effort has kicked off with a website and the support of four major teams: Therapeutic Associates; Sorella Forte; West Coast Women’s Cycling; and Upper Echelon Fitness. The objectives of the group (according to their website) are:

Screen grab from LetsRaceBikes.com.
  • To encourage new and former racers to come out and enjoy road racing with their friends.
  • To make racing more accessible to more women of all abilities by providing numerous skills practice opportunities througout the year.
  • To support womens racing by raising funds for women’s race prizes and other efforts throughout the year.

Miles says their focus on Portland, but they are planning to branch out and create “focus groups” in Eugene, Bend, and other areas. Interested teams can designate a representative to get involved by emailing hello [at] letsracebikes [dot] com.

A big launch party is planned for December 8th at 7:00 pm at PACE Fitness (4829 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd). Learn more at LetsRaceBikes.com.